Euro Betting: England vs Croatia, 13 June 14:00
Group Stage | Group D | London
The opening game of Group D, and the game most readers will be waiting for; England kick-off their tournament and continually desperate pursuit of international silverware, against Croatia. A somewhat newly formed rivalry has developed between the two sides, following frequent and recent competitive games that have ended with dramatic finales. Will we be in for more of the same?
As is their custom over the past decade, England cantered through qualifying, topping their group and winning all but one game, a narrow defeat to Czech Republic – another team they are set to face in the group stages of Euro 2020. With a huge 37 goals scored during qualifying (only bettered by Belgium), Gareth Southgate’s men look an exciting side to watch this summer.
Croatia’s qualifying campaign was successful, but much like their iconic national jersey, it was chequered. Five victories, two draws and one loss did see them top their group ahead of Wales, but such varied results do point to inconsistency, something they’ll be looking to shake-off come tournament time.
Squads & Line-ups
Whisper it quietly, but in some quarters, it is being said that this squad could be another ‘golden generation’ for England. Yes, we all know what little became of the last one on the silverware front, but this is a genuinely talented roster of players for Southgate to pick from.
From an attacking viewpoint, you would be hard-pressed to find a side with better collection of dangerous players. From Golden Boot winner, Harry Kane, to the respected support of Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, then there are the mercurial new additions of Mason Mount, Phil Foden, and Jack Grealish. The only conundrum for Southgate is finding the right combination of such an attacking force.
Defence is where the biggest concerns lie. Captain Harry Maguire is in the squad, but a recent ankle injury means there is no clear idea of when, if at all, he’ll be fit for the tournament, leaving England’s chosen centre-back pairing a real mystery and highly questionable in terms of quality.
For the Vatreni, age is the overriding question mark against their squad. With the revered Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic retiring before this tournament, Croatia’s Euro fate may rest on Luka Modric, another veteran, yet world-class talisman. Of the few younger lights within the squad, attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic will look to build on his burgeoning reputation, whilst Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic will add the much-needed bite to Croatia’s play.
It’s fair to say, these two sides know how to sting each other!
Until the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the two sides had not met for the best part of a decade. Yet what has followed since, has created and reignited a genuine ‘modern rivalry.’ Starting with the Moscow semi-final – a stage that both side had historically struggled to reach – Croatia fought back from an early Kieran Trippier goal to break English hearts and advance to their first ever World Cup final.
Just three months later, England returned the comeback heart-break gesture, with a late Harry Kane winner taking his side through to the inaugural Nations League finals. Two fixtures with major gains from the fine margins of football.
Prior to this, England convincingly beat Croatia 4-1 and 5-1 during qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, and then there was the iconic game of the ‘Wally With The Brolly.’ When needing just a point to qualify for Euro 2008, England were left stunned by Croatia in a game of great goals, England errors, and then Manager, Steve McClaren looking damp and crest-fallen under an umbrella with a paper coffee cup.
Ominously, England have never won an opening game at the Euros, whilst Croatia have never lost and have won their last three. This is England’s tenth Euro appearance, and Croatia’s sixth. They met once at Euro 2004, with England the victors in a 4-2 knock-out round win and a young Wayne Rooney announcing himself on the international stage with two goals to help England reach the quarter-finals.
More recently, Roy Hodgson’s England suffered at the hands (and hand claps!) of Iceland in 2016, but their golden Euro’s moment remains in 96 when as hosts, a Gascoigne-inspired England reached the semi-finals in front of a delirious home support singing to the then new tune ‘It’s Coming Home.’
Alas, it didn’t. And still never has. Yet.
Euro 96 was also Croatia’s first ever Euros, where they reached the quarter-finals, and repeated that success again at Euro 2008.
So much to ponder – England’s new ‘golden generation’ against Croatia’s ‘golden oldies’ and both still stinging from fresh wounds that each have inflicted. Let battle commence!